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Government surveyed voters on water bills before pricing decision

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The State Government surveyed South Australians about their attitude to the cost of water bills before confirming a reduction in the value of SA Water’s assets last week – with respondents also asked if the administration “is doing a good job running the economy”.

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The Q&A, by research company McGregor Tan, was billed as a “short survey to understand the perceptions and awareness about various infrastructural activities of [the] SA government”, with participants offered the chance to win $200 for filling out the online form.

InDaily has confirmed the survey was commissioned by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which said it was seeking “to make the best use of any investment it makes”.

“Part of ensuring this outcome is the use of market research to develop effective messaging for the South Australian public,” a departmental statement said.

But the exercise has been branded “a complete waste of money” by the Opposition, with Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan declaring it was “obvious this has been conducted to help the Government better sell its message on water pricing”.

The survey asks respondents a series of questions about how they believe SA water prices compare to other states, asking them: “Have you seen or heard anything regarding the cost of household SA Water bills in the past six months through advertising, news or other formats?”

It asks if they are aware “that from July 1 the SA Government intends to reduce the price of all SA Water household bills” and if so what they “understand is the reason for the SA Water household bills to be reduced”.

“Are you aware that the current SA Government launched a review into the cost of SA Water bills,” the survey continues.

Seeking answers on a scale of one to five, it asks respondents whether they agree that reading or seeing that the SA Government intends to reduce water bills “makes me feel positive about the future of the state” and “tells me that the SA Government is helping to create jobs for South Australians”.

It also asks if the mooted reduction “makes me feel more favourably about the current Government” and whether the respondent is “confident that the SA Government is doing a good job in running the economy”.

It also asks whether when they “don’t hear anything about what the State Government is doing”, they “assume they are not doing very much”.

Other statements they were asked to respond to on a sliding scale were:

The survey also polled respondents about the use of the SA Water website, and whether they would be inclined to use “an easy to use online calculator… to estimate how much money you will save” on water.

Social media posts from Government accounts linked to the online calculator last week, after the Essential Services Commission confirmed a pricing determination that would see the average household save around $200 a year on water bills.

That followed Treasurer Rob Lucas’s $520 million reduction in the value of SA Water’s Regulated Asset Base, a measure used to set ESCOSA’s Pricing Order for the forthcoming four-year period.

A Government spokesperson said “as with any awareness campaign, the government seeks to make the best use of any investment it makes [and] part of ensuring this outcome is the use of market research to develop effective messaging for the South Australian public”.

They said it was not used to inform the pricing decision on SA Water’s regulated asset base.

But Mullighan described the survey as “a complete extravagance when thousands of businesses are calling out for more financial support from their state government”.

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